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The Paris-ramallah Axis

Rarely has a poet died to so much noise. Today, the eulogy for Mahmoud Darwish comes from Tobias Buck, the certified and unfailing filter between the official Palestinians and those who read the Financial Times.

Buck reminds us that, aside from poetry and Yassir Arafat's guns and olive branch speech to the General Assembly, Darwish also penned the Declaration of Independence of the State of Palestine. This is a fantasmagorical document. Proclaimed in remote Algiers on November 15, 1988, when a Palestinian state could hardly be imagined, the manifesto embraced much potted history and purveyed the lie of uniform resistance to the Zionists by elites and peasants alike when, in fact, a true record of the locals would have included an embarrassing narrative of collaboration and cowardice. You can still feel in it the rhapsodical motifs that are usually preludes to failure. In any case, these were Darwish's words.

Quite naturally, Buck makes much of Darwish being a poet of exile. I don't think going into exile, particularly if your life is not 
threatened at home, is either a brave act or an exemplary act. But I do understand why living in Paris--as a revolutionary poet, no less--would be more satisfying than casting your lot with the crude insurgents in Ramallah. After all, Mrs. Arafat also chose Paris over Ramallah.

But the fact that Darwish lived much of his life in exile inevitably compels comparison with Edward Said. And Tobias Buck does his duty. Poor Said, with his natty tweeds and mournful demeanor from a mid-century English novel, is just about over, his theories now left to a few thuggish intellectuals at Columbia University and their graduates students, by now also aging professors at the State University of Whatever, professors whose acolytes can no longer get jobs. Now, of course, Said didn't choose exile. He went, first to Egypt as a child in the fall of 1947, when the victory of the Jews was far from certain, when in fact the Arabs simply assumed they would return in glory. They didn't. Still, Said's memoiristic work has the aura of fatalism to it. But, like Darwish, he chose exile, poor man, and to live under the last colonials.